book: Summer of the Big Bachi (2004) by Naomi Hirahara


A novel that I decided to read because I noticed that Hirahara was nominated for one of the major crime fiction awards (I now, natch, forget which) for her most recent episode in the series. I thought I’d give the first in the series a try.

To look at Mas Arai you’d think he was just another Japanese-American gardener scratching a living in the LA region. But Mas was in Hiroshima fifty years and more ago when the atom bomb went off, and he bears the psychological scars to this day. In particular, he’s still consumed by guilt over what he perceives as his own grave moral lapse during the immediate aftermath of the detonation in failing to honor a commitment to a dying friend, Joji. He’s been expecting bachi — fate’s payback for his crime — to come by and now, all these decades later, it seems to have done so.

Mas has been covering up for the fact that he knows that another old Hiroshima acquaintance, Riki, has been masquerading all this time Continue reading


The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: William Nigh Assoc Pr: Jack Bernhard Scr: Clarence Upson Young Story: Alex Gottlieb Cine: Woody Bredell Cast: Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, Samuel S. Hinds, Mona Barrie, Shemp Howard, Paul Cavanagh, Edmund MacDonald, Mantan Moreland, John Gallaudet, William Gould, Leyland Hodgson, Matty Fain, Mary Gordon, Jan Wiley, Ray Corrigan.

A mysterious serial killer, nicknamed Dr. Rx because of the notes he leaves with his victims, is strangling criminals whom silver-tongued defense attorney Dudley Crispin (Hinds) has succeeded in getting acquitted. Crispin hires PI Jerry Church (Knowles) to protect his current client, manifestly guilty mobster Tony Zarini (Fain). However, Fain dies in the courtroom within moments of his acquittal, surrounded by friends and lawyers yet seemingly strangled like all the others.

Patric Knowles as Jerry.

Detective Captain Bill Hurd (MacDonald) of the NYPD is baffled by the case and wants Jerry to collaborate with the police investigation. Jerry’s brand-new wife, mystery writer Kit Logan Church (Gwynne), is less keen for him to continue, having Continue reading

book: Silk (1996; trans 1997 Guido Waldman) by Alessandro Baricco


I picked up Silk for the least literary of reasons: the 1997 Harvill Press edition is just a beautiful little book, an object I greedily wanted to own. And, when I pulled it off the shelf to read a couple of days ago, I did so with little expectation beyond that it’d be a pleasant enough way to while away an hour or two.

Instead, I was absolutely mesmerized from the outset and held rapt throughout by a tale that’s both fascinating and moving — a tale that feels woven rather than merely told.

It’s the early 1860s and Europe’s silk farms are being devastated by a parasite. In one small town in southern France, the Continue reading

book: Looker (2019) by Laura Sims


The blurb to this book describes it as a “propulsive Hitchcockian thriller,” a comment that’s both grossly misleading and in some ways justified. To take the latter first, I can see the connection with classic tales of obsession like Boileau-Narcejac’s Vertigo, which Hitchcock filmed, and Marc Behm’s Eye of the Beholder, which I wish he had (although the two extant movie versions both have a lot to recommend them). But what the blurb writer is really trying to imply by the remark, I think, is that this is a sort of Psycho-style edge-of-your-seat psychological suspenser — “the new Gone Girl” or “the new Girl on a Train” or whatever (even the Yellow Pages seems to be thus labeled these days) — which is something Looker just isn’t. It’s a psychological novel, yes: a psychological study of a woman having a nervous breakdown.

Our nameless narrator has recently been abandoned by her heartless turd of a husband, Nathan, seemingly because she’s incapable of having children. In her loneliness and misery and irrational guilt she’s become obsessed with the movie star, likewise unnamed, who lives with her family down the block. In a sense, this is a sort of displaced obsession, a deflection to the external of Continue reading

book: The Discovery of Heaven (1992; trans 1996 Paul Vincent) by Harry Mulisch


This is an inordinately long book (the print is very small, so the count of 730 pages is a bit misleading), and it took me an inordinately long time to read it. I’m in two minds about whether the effort was worth it.

In a frame story that takes the form of a conversation between two angels (we assume), one of them recounts how he was under orders to recover the “testimony” (which we discover is the pair of stones upon which Moses wrote the Ten Commandments at God’s dictation). To this end, the angel tweaked events on earth to bring about the creation of a human emissary to perform said recovery. The novel is the history of how the angel achieved this, beginning a few months before the conception of the emissary, who’ll in the event be called Quinten, and finishing a little after the reclamation of the stones.

I was reminded a little, in terms of the novel’s overall construction, of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, whose supposed protagonist, Titus, is Continue reading

Zinzana (2015)

vt Rattle the Cage
UAE / 92 minutes / color / Image Nation Abu Dhabi, IM Global Dir: Majid Al Ansari Pr: Rami Yasin Scr: Ruckus Skye, Lane Skye Cine: Colin Leveque Cast: Ali Suliman, Saleh Bakri, Yasa, Abdalla Rashid Al Shehhi, Ali Al Jabri, Mansoor Alfeeli, Ahd Kamel, Omar Abdulhamid, Iyad Hoorani.

There are very few things I can promise you with absolute certainty, but here’s one: I’ve never featured a United Arab Emirates neonoir on this site before. The reason I’m so very positive this is the case is that Zinzana—the name means “cage” in Arabic—is the first and, so far as I can tell, only neonoir to be made in the UAE. On the evidence of this outing, however, I’m hoping there’ll be many more.

In an unidentified Arab country, Talal Mohammed Bin Antar (Bakri) has been thrown into the cells of the local PD for getting into a fight: he attacked a stranger, Bu Hamad (Al Jabri). The latter is able to arrange bail for himself but, when Talal phones his ex-wife, Wafa Nasser (Kamel), she’s not interested in helping him out: she remembers him as Continue reading

A Woman of Mystery (1958)

UK / 70 minutes / bw / Danziger, UA Dir: Ernest Morris Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Scr: Brian Clemens, Eldon Howard Cine: Jimmy Wilson Cast: Dermot Walsh, Hazel Court, Jennifer Jayne, Ferdy Mayne, Ernest Clark, Martin Benson, Diana Chesney, David Lander, Gordon Tanner, Paul Dickson.

Brian Clemens, later to earn a place in television history with the hugely popular series The Avengers (1961–9), was clearly popular at the Danzigers B-feature studio around the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their relevant ventures together include:

  • The DEPRAVED (1957)
  • The PURSUERS (1961)
  • Two Wives at One Wedding (1961)

A Woman of Mystery is a fairly typical Danzigers production, although not so typical of Clemens’s screenplays. The plot lacks his trademark twists and turns and especially that slightly surreal edge that tends to mark his work. It’s a good workmanlike tale, though, and on the whole competently acted by a not insignificant cast. What lets it down are the production standards—a point I’ll come back to. Michael Caine has an uncredited bit part as a thug; no comment.

Dermot Walsh as Ray and Hazel Court as Joy.

Jane Hale (uncredited), a hatcheck girl at the Flamingo Club, seemingly gasses herself. Harvey (Clark), editor of Fact, “the magazine of private and confidential stories,” thinks her death might make a good human-interest story, and sets crack reporter Ray Savage (Walsh) the task of investigating this potential “woman of mystery.”

Jennifer Jayne as Ruby.

Needless to say, Ray’s digging reveals Jane didn’t commit suicide at all: she was murdered. After interviewing a bunch of people Continue reading

reblog: “Hello Out There” (1949): Allan Fish Online Film Festival Day #7

***My contribution to this year’s Allan Fish Online Film Festival has just appeared at Wonders in the Dark. Hello Out There is a fascinating little movie: I hope I’ve done it at least a modicum of justice.

Wonders in the Dark

by John Grant

US / 31 minutes / bw / Huntington Hartford Dir: James Whale Pr: Huntington Hartford Scr: George W. Tobin Story:Hello Out There! (1941 play, staged 1942) by William Saroyan Cine: Karl Struss Cast: Marjorie Steele, Harry Morgan, Lee Patrick, Ray Teal.

Created as a segment of an anthology feature whose other two segments never got made, Hello Out There is a fairly faithful—perhaps too faithful—adaptation of a William Saroyan one-act play. One odd change (aside from the removal of the exclamation mark from the title) is that the play’s Emily Smith becomes Ethel Smith in the movie.

An itinerant gambler, Photo-Finish (Morgan), is in jail in the small Texas town of Matador, falsely accused of having raped a married woman in the neighboring town of Wheeling. Everyone’s gone home from the jail except the cleaner Ethel Smith (Steele), who cooks for the prisoners whenever there are…

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ot: Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 2 ToC announced

I was proud to have a story in The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, a bumper anthology that was extremely well received. You can find more about the book, including some of its early review quotes, here.


Well, the fine folks at Alchemy Press have just announced the table of contents for its follow-up, The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 2:

  • Gail-Nina Anderson           Henrietta Street
  • Sarah Ash                          I Left My Fair Homeland
  • Debbie Bennett                  I Remember Everything
  • Mike Chinn                         Digging in the Dirt
  • Paul Finch                          What Did You See
  • John Grant                         The Loneliest Place
  • John Howard                      The Primordial Light
  • Tim Jeffreys                       Black Nore
  • Eyglo Karlsdottir                Footprints in the Snow
  • Nancy Kilpatrick                Promises
  • Garry Kilworth                   Lirpaloof Island
  • Samantha Lee                   The Secret Place
  • Pauline Morgan                 Beneath Namibian Sands
  • Sharon Newell                   Every Bad Thing
  • Thana Niveau                    The Hate Whisperer
  • John Llewellyn Probert      Hydrophobia
  • Peter Sutton                      We Do Like to Be Beside

Alchemy Press’s Peter Coleborn has kindly sent me a preview of the cover visual:

My contribution, “The Loneliest Place,” is a noirish sf/fantasy/horror piece. Kudos to you if you can guess in advance the slipstream-noirish crime writer it homages.

Paradise Express (1937)

US / 53 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Joseph Kane Pr: Nat Levine Scr: Jack Natteford, Betty Burbridge Story: Allan Vaughan Elston, Paul Perez Cine: Jack Marta Cast: Grant Withers, Dorothy Appleby, Arthur Hoyt, Maude Eburne, Harry Davenport, Donald Kirke, Arthur Loft, Lew Kelly, Anthony Pawley, Fern Emmett, John Holland, Bob McClung, Bruce Mitchell, Guy Wilkerson, George Cleveland, Horace Murphy, Ralph McCullough.

The Moon Valley Short Line Railroad is on its last legs, despite the efforts of its curmudgeonly boss, Jed Carson (Davenport), and his feisty granddaughter Kay (Appleby). Both of them initially loathe the receiver the company’s creditors have appointed, Lawrence/Laurence (the movie gives both spellings) “Larry” Doyle (Withers):

Kay: “[He wants] more dismissals? It’s a pity someone can’t dismiss Mr. Lawrence with a well aimed sledgehammer.”

The trouble is that the Armstrong Trucking Corp., led by slimeball Armstrong (Kirke), is undercutting the railroad’s prices and even its transit times.

Dorothy Appleby as Kay and Grant Withers as Larry.

Yet Larry proves to have the railroad’s interests at heart. He soon earns Kay’s devotion and Continue reading